The Road Back: John McDonough practicing law again after alcohol, poor health almost took his life

John McDonough

2020 was a year to remember and a year to forget. Marred by racial inequality and injustice, a global pandemic, and seemingly one tragedy after another, it’s hard to argue 2020 was good for anyone. For former St. Joseph County Prosecutor John McDonough, 2020 was the “toughest year of (his) life,” albeit for vastly different reasons.

In May 2020, McDonough was charged with driving under the influence and having an open intoxicant after his vehicle left the roadway and crashed into a fence on Lovers Lane in Three Rivers. Following the incident, McDonough was admitted to an area hospital for unrelated health concerns. Three months later McDonough fell to challenger and current Prosecutor David Marvin in the August 2020 primary, ending McDonough’s 12-year run as county prosecutor.

Now a year later, McDonough is practicing law again, operating out of his new office on West Michigan Avenue in Three Rivers above L.A.’s Coffee Café. The Three Rivers native recently sat down with Watershed Voice to discuss the crash that changed his life, his brush with death, his new practice, and the road back to sobriety and some semblance of normalcy.

Alek Haak-Frost (AHF): After a trying 2020 you recently opened your own firm after multiple terms as county prosecutor. What has the last year been like for you and could you explain how this new venture came about?

John McDonough (JM): The past year has been the toughest of my life, choices that I made over a number of years caught up with me. The accident on May 11, 2020 was just the beginning of my transition to my new life. Alcohol had consumed my life and I made many poor decisions because of it. 

On the date of the accident I was not feeling well and had had some alcohol earlier, my BAC (blood alcohol concentration) at the time of the accident was .06 and .07, below the limit. I had a coughing fit and believe that I momentarily blacked out because of a combination of poor health and alcohol consumption. 

I was taken to jail in Cass County and was released after a short time, and then my wife took me to Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo where I went in and was told that I would be admitted. I don’t remember anything after that. I was placed in a medically induced coma for the next 16 days. My liver and kidneys failed, I had internal bleeding, a collapsed lung, and was aspirating and unable to breathe without a ventilator. 

The doctors did not think I was going to make it and had my family planning my funeral. I woke up and started breathing again on Memorial Day and began on my path to recovery. I spent a total of 34 days at Borgess being tested, treated, doing rehabilitation to learn to walk, bathe myself and many other tasks that are taken for granted.  I was released and did two more months of in-home rehabilitation to get me healthy enough to go to inpatient alcohol treatment. Because of my choices I now have constant nerve pain in my legs, feet, and hands. I cannot throw a ball, run, walk normally, and have lost almost all use of my right hand.

Even with all that, I drank again before inpatient and one more time after. I now have my sobriety on track, I am over 7 months sober, attend AA daily, and have my legal issues working their way out. I am on probation until July and have two years of oversight by the State Bar of Michigan so that I can keep my license to practice law valid. I heard about office space above LA Coffee shop opening up, and decided that would be a great spot to start over fresh with my own practice. My goal with the new practice is to give people the best possible representation in whatever they have hired me for, and do that at a reasonable price.

AHF: What kind of law will you be practicing? Obviously, you have years of experience prosecuting criminal cases, how will that experience lend itself to your new role?

JM: Criminal law, I have 15 years of experience in this field and have worked all kinds of cases. Family law, unfortunately divorce and custody issues happen, and I will assist my clients in getting the best outcome possible, and take as much stress as I can off of the situation. (I also provide) estate planning (services), and (work cases related to) child abuse and neglect.

AHF: Did you ever see yourself starting your own firm? I know previously you said you had spent so many years as a prosecutor “fighting for the good guys,” you couldn’t imagine working on the other side of the table. Do you still feel that way?

JM: My time as prosecutor was extremely rewarding, but I see that proper representation is important in all cases and that is what I will strive to provide.

AHF: What has this experience taught you, and what do you hope to learn in the coming months and years as you grow your business? 

JM: This past year has taught me that poor choices can completely change your life and that alcoholism is a disease that can affect anyone. I have learned to appreciate the little things in life, and have focused on my sobriety and family. I have healed mentally and physically, and cannot wait for the next chapter of my working life to take shape.

AHF: Lastly, what is your office’s address, hours of operation, and how can folks contact you to inquire about your services?

JM: My address is 145 W. Michigan Ave. in Three Rivers, right above LA’s Coffee Café. I am open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will may make other arrangements, if necessary. People can call (269) 273-8080, email, or visit my website

Alek Haak-Frost is executive editor of Watershed Voice.

Need help with a drinking problem? You can visit Alcoholics Anonymous’ website or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).